Finding your Voice, part 2


About time for part 2. Actually, it's about content. The second stage of finding one's voice as a visual artist has to do with content and themes.

Many artists who are just starting out jump around from one topic to another, one genre to another, one influential teacher to the next -- this is an important stage in  learning to be oneself. Sooner or later the time comes to get beyond the surface of a topic or interest, whether it is rural landscapes or flowers or political activism or portraiture. Committing to solving the same problem different ways earns a potent benefit in the process of finding one’s voice. How do you pick?  Start with something that holds some passion for you – something with enough personal interest that you might have a chance of making it interesting to someone else.

Sometimes the content of one’s work is directly related to “formal” interests (for example, an artist interested in rhythm, might find a study of African mudcloth patterns particularly inspiring and influential, or maybe exploring the visual idea of windows would appeal to an artist who likes spatial concepts.) For others, a theme or content is something important because of experience, story and memory – journaling can help you identify these kinds of themes. Themes and content lead one to develop personal imagery, ways of handling materials and tools, narrative content sometimes.

Working in series is at the heart of finding content. Some artists resist this -- the "lists" are full of dialogue about those who defend their right NOT to work in series -- and sometimes the arguments can be convincing. But I challenge you to find any artist  (in any medium, even) who has achieved a measure of creative (or professional or financial or even popular) success who has not come to grips with working in series. Yes, a body of work might travel through a universe of themes in its breadth, even a galaxy of styles, but within that space travel, the artist finds herself or himself treading some familiar paths over and over, if only to find new ways to solve compelling problems. Series work does not have to be exclusive or linear. I have several series all going at once -- but I do return over and over again to address and to identify certain key images, shapes, icons and themes. One visit just won't do the trick.

I do allow myself to wander around between the roads. One needs  to stray, to play, to meander -- just where do you think those series are born? So the artist's life seems to me this seesaw -- pushing out from what is known, tackling the next turn around a known arena and, on the downside, dashing out into dangerous traffic.

There are times (and I happen to be herein) when one can't stand the idea of doing anything that looks anything like what one has done before. That's scary. One little inner voice says: You have worked hard to establish this content as your own. This IS your style. And the devil on the other shoulder argues, Tsk, tsk, repeating yourself again are you? This teetertotter can be paralyzing. My advice (to myself, mostly) keep the momentum. See what happens. Do the new. Punch it up next to the more familiar and see what happens.

What do you do? Where do you dance with content? How do you own your work?